It’s great to have you back. In our last post we began a new series dubbed “The heart of a disciple”. In it we are exploring the attitudes, desires and proclivities that should characterize anyone undertaking the task of discipleship. In our last post we put the spotlight on EZRA. In case you missed it, get caught up here. Today we move the spotlight and focus on the apostle Paul.
Paul cuts a very interesting character in the biblical narrative. From his relentless pursuit and persecution of the early Christian movement to his passionate promotion of the same faith, his story is nothing short of epic. To attempt to properly contextualize Paul would require a series on its own but for the purposes of today’s post we would attempt to give a summary.
Paul, whose birth name was actually Saul was born and raised in Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, a Roman province in South-East Asia Minor. He was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin and trained in the ways of the strictest sect of Judaism at the time. He was a Pharisee. Though a trained Rabbi, that is minister, teacher and lawyer all in one, he also learned the trade of tent making, a skill that would prove instrumental in later years on his missionary journeys. Though a Jew, his father was a Roman citizen which made Paul a roman citizen by birth. The name Paul (Latin: Paulus) which means small or diminutive probably describing the stature of the apostle was given to him for use in the Roman world.
Paul’s training as a Pharisee greatly shaped his understanding of the world and his relationship with God. As a Pharisee, he saw himself a custodian of the Jewish faith in Yahweh. He viewed any offshoot as a threat that should be quickly snuffed out and it was this thinking that led the young Jewish rabbi on a mission to stump out the early Christian movement. In the books of Acts we see him consenting the death of Stephen, a deacon in the early church. He is described as breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. He was a one man wrecking ball on a mission to graze the church to the ground.
In Acts chapter 9 something happens to Paul that would change the course of his life and history as we know it. He has a vision in which he encounters the risen Jesus. In that brief encounter Paul begins to rework his understanding of Yahweh and realizes that Christian faith he is bent on destroying is actually the move of God to bring salvation to the entire human race. Immediately the persecutor became a promoter of the Christian faith. Paul devoted the rest of his life to preaching the gospel and establishing Christian communities everywhere he went. In the course of his journeys he also penned down a series of letters to some of the Christian communities he had founded, to some he was planning on visiting and some too to his travel companions whom he had sent to continue the work in other places. These letters are what we call the Pauline Epistles.
In one of such letters, namely the Letter to the church in Rome ( The book of Romans in your bible), Paul makes three “I am” statements that we believe let us into his mind and are also attitudes we believe are worth emulating if we are going to be effective disciples.
In Romans chapter 1:14-16 we read;
“I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
In the first of the “I am” statements Paul describes himself as a debtor to both Greeks and barbarians and to both the wise and unwise. The terms barbarians and unwise as used by Paul do not carry the same connotations as they do today. The people of first century Rome describe those outside the borders of the kingdom as barbarians and unwise, as such Paul, is here saying he is indebted to preach the gospel to all people groups. Paul in his conversion experience was commissioned by the Lord Jesus to preach the gospel to gentile (non-Jewish) nations. He saw himself as indebted to Christ, the one who loved him and gave himself for him. It was this indebtedness to Christ that translated to his indebtedness to the people to which Christ had sent him. How do you approach the command of Jesus to preach the gospel to all nations? Do you see it as one of those things you can opt out of when the situation becomes difficult or like Paul do you consider yourself duty bound because of your indebtedness to the Lord Jesus?
The second thing is that he was ready. He wasn’t just a duty bound individual he was eager and willing to perform the task handed to him by the Lord. He actively sought out people and places to whom and where the gospel had not been preached in order to invite them to be partakers of the grace and life that is found in Jesus. His readiness brought to bear all his strengths in the task of evangelism. In his letter to the church in Corinth he reminds them that he left no stone unturned in performing his duty. To the Jews he became like one of them. That is he thought and reasoned out his message within their worldview in order to reach them. To those outside of the Jewish community he also reasoned and thought like them in order to reach them with the same message in their own context. This was clearly a determined man. He was not going to let anything stop him from reaching the lost world with the message of the gospel.
There’s a story in the book of Acts that typifies Paul’s readiness. He and his travel companions had just arrived in Caesarea. This was a brief stop on their journey to Jerusalem. In Caesarea Paul and his team lodged in the house of Philip the evangelist. While there a known prophet of the church, Agabus, came in and in dramatic fashion prophesied the arrest of Paul in Jerusalem. This news greatly troubled Paul’s companions and the believers in Caesarea and they begged Paul to reconsider his decision. But Paul answered and said, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:8-13). He wasn’t just ready to be arrested he was willing and ready to die. This was the extent of Paul’s drive. Like Paul are we ready to break into new frontiers to spread our gospel message? Are we ready to immerse ourselves into different world views and cultures to understand them and properly present the message of Christ? And are we ready to go all out even to the point of death for the name of the Lord Jesus? To these questions and more we must be able to answer like Paul did; “As much as is within me I am ready”.
Lastly Paul declares that he was unashamed of the gospel. He wasn’t ashamed to be associated with the message of Christ. The Christian message has been a subject of ridicule from its very inception. The very concept of a crucified savior sounded like a contradiction of terms to the first century gentile world who were big on philosophy. The idea that the transcendent God came and took on human flesh just to die the most gruesome of deaths was a major stumbling block to the Jews as well. But in all this Paul, having experienced the power of God to save in the gospel would not let the ridicule of men slow him down. There were the likes of Festus who actually thought Paul was going mad but in all this the apostle kept his resolve. He would not be shamed into backing down because deep down he knew that it was this very message which he once considered blasphemous and outright foolish that God had chosen to save the world. In our world today we face similar situations. The Christian message is ridiculed and our ethic is considered weak. In the face of all this opposition we must be able to stand firm and unashamedly proclaim the good news that in Christ Jesus God has saved us from the bondage of sin.
As we step out today to represent Jesus, like Paul we must be Indebted, Ready and Unashamed.
God Bless You!!